While we dig the work of our female food gurus all year round and, given today is International Women’s Day, we thought they deserved an extra special shout out. From restaurant owners to mixologists to chefs, we want to say a collective, “you’re amazing” to each and every one of them.
Today, we’re shining a spotlight on three boss ladies who are making a difference in the Gold Coast food industry and find out their thoughts on the leaps and bounds that have been made.
Prepare to be inspired.
Karla Munoz Labart
Raised on the Gold Coast, Karla Munoz Labart moved to Sydney after high school where she began her successful public relations career. So evident was her love of all things food and wine that in 2014 she founded her own communications business, The Exchange Agency, where her clients include restaurants, hotels, bars and wineries.
Fast forward to 2018, and Sydney’s loss was the Coast’s epic gain, with Munoz Labart and her husband Alex moving back to the GC to open their first eatery, Restaurant Labart, in Burleigh Heads. The restaurant became an instant hit with tables booking out on the regular. Now splitting her time between the two businesses, Munoz Labart has a unique insight into the Gold Coast’s foodie scene and the strides females are making in a largely male-dominated industry.
“[For me] it’s important to encourage women to enter the world of hospitality, and in turn retain them, as they bring such value to the industry. Across the board in male-dominated industries we need to work towards better gender equality and not stop until we get there,” she says.
“Being a woman in the food industry in 2019 is exciting. We have an opportunity to influence the direction of the industry and make a difference. I think a lot of women are scared to voice their opinions or give their advice, but it’s time to speak up and know that your opinion is important and valued.”
Most importantly, Munoz Labart believes encouraging each other is the key.
“Hospitality is a tough industry. Having strong, successful women to look up to is vital. We need to nurture young women who are taking that initial step into the industry and show them that hospitality can be a rewarding and long-term career.”
Hailing from Seattle in the US, Jess Hayes has worked as a chef for almost two decades. Before opening her own restaurant and bar in Kirra, Saint Helens, she led a team of chefs at the prestigious Mitchelton Winery in Victoria.
Often finding herself as one of few females in the kitchen, Hayes knows first-hand how important it is to break the glass ceiling. “Women have always been the predominant force behind the feeding of our world. Only when it moves from home cooking to “professional” status does this change,” Hayes explains.
“The main hurdle I’ve faced being a chef is fairly common amongst women in any profession. When we are opinionated, outspoken or direct, some can interpret this as bitchy, moody or mean. The ability to disregard this, being confident in yourself and your product, and keeping your passion alive is essential.”
Despite her challenges, Hayes says being a female head chef in 2019 is an exciting time. “Interest in food is at an all-time high. As more and more females are now leading kitchens, you see a new dynamic appearing in restaurants; less ego, less b-s, just good food.”
Most importantly though, it’s about getting more female in professional kitchens.
“One of the greatest parts of my job is mentoring young chefs,” Hayes says. “I’m immensely proud of people who have worked for me and moved on to lead their own kitchens. It is icing on the cake when those chefs happen to be female.”
The North Room
For Shannon Stewart, her long career in hospitality started out when she met a chef while in the last three months of her business and arts degree in Ballarat. She spent that very summer working along the Great Ocean Road at Apollo Bay and her love of all things food was cemented. At 22 years old she bought a small restaurant in Yamba called Pippis with her now husband Tim, before eventually—after a detour to Geelong—settling on the Gold Coast. And we’re so glad they did.
After managing several restaurants on the Coast (Vie Bar and Videre) the Stewarts opened their fine dining eatery, The North Room, in 2017. And we’re so glad they did. The intimate 28-seat establishment is renowned for serving up refined food and top-notch service.
For Stewart, it’s not so much about celebrating genders but overall how much the Gold Coast foodie scene has evolved over the years. “There are males and females out there killing it in their respective roles all over the GC at the moment,” she says. “We, as women, work hard not to be categorised. We just want to be respected for a job well done. No excuses.”
“[It’s important to have more women in the industry for] perspective, vision, growth, diversity and clarity. I honestly believe that our industry has come a long way from 15 years ago. The GC food scene respects anyone who does their job well. Gender is irrelevant, there are as many girl bosses out there as men these days. And those ladies are all killing it.”
Image Credit: Kaitlin Maree Photography for Urban List